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Ayse Hortacsu

BS ’00, MS ’02
Civil & Environmental Engineering
Story originally published on Aug 2021
#IAmAnEngineer and I work to make the world a safer place. I’m on this planet to do some good.

Originally from Turkey, I was probably born an engineer. Both of my parents are engineering professors. I was raised in a household with lots of math and science. My mother has a PhD in engineering, so it seemed perfectly normal for a woman to be in engineering. Even so, it was a long, winding path to civil engineering. I originally was interested in archaeology because in Turkey there are ruins everywhere. At first I didn’t want to be an engineer and wanted to study archaeology. But, it turns out, I was more interested in how the buildings were constructed and what they looked like before they collapsed. So then I thought, ’I am strong in math and science, so how do I combine everything?’ Civil engineering was a natural fit. In 1999, during my junior year at Stanford, a big earthquake hit Turkey and 40,000 people died. I traveled to Turkey, connected with some engineers, and we drove around surveying the damage for two weeks. It wasn’t official reconnaissance, but we talked to a lot of people and helped them. This solidified my passion for earthquake engineering and became the focus of my master’s program as well.

Now, I work as director of projects for a small nonprofit called Applied Technology Council, or ATC. We take the research that is being conducted at universities and make sure that practitioners can use it, by creating and managing the reports that are the results of the research. Eventually, these reports may find their way into building codes that everyone in the country might use. For example, two weeks before the Loma Prieta earthquake, ATC published a report that describes post-earthquake safety evaluation methods for engineers and other trained professionals for putting placards on buildings: Red means ’No, you can’t come in’ or green: ’This building has been inspected.’ The methodology was put to use in the immediate earthquake response and now it’s being used worldwide. I can honestly say that the work I am doing is directly contributing to making the world a safer place.

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